By Maëlle Alquezar

How does legal translation differ from other sectors? Legal translation is a very complex process as each legal system is influenced by each country’s cultural characteristics. As a consequence, each nation has its own legal language representing the national legal system. One of the legal translator’s tasks is to transpose the national legal systems’ notions from the source-language into the target-language. However, the legal translator is likely face serious difficulties when translating some terms as there may be variations depending on the country or even the language.

Contract and signaturePaying close attention to the context is essential when translating as it helps the translator to choose the appropriate word. For instance the French term “avocat” won’t be translated the same way in English depending on the country of origin of the text. In the United States, this French term can be translated into three different words depending on the context: attorney, lawyer and advocate. Once again, the translator will have to choose one of these words depending on the context.

The same terms will be different in other countries such as in England or in Wales. Indeed, the words solicitor or barrister will be used instead of attorney. The word barrister is closer to the American word trial attorney while solicitor is more likely to be translated by the word attorney. It is important to note that the words solicitor and barrister do not exist in the United States in the same way that the word attorney does not exist in England and Wales. There are differences in Scotland as well. For instance, in Scotland the word advocate is more commonly used instead of the word barrister.

With regards to countries such as Canada, Australia, Hong Kong or New Zealand, the words solicitor and barrister will more likely be seen and similar to the use in England because of their historical and cultural links. The meaning is almost the same as in England. However, it does not work exactly the same way. For instance, when registering at a bar association in New Zealand the person will immediately be both a solicitor and barrister.

Taking the context of the documents into consideration is essential when carrying out a translation, whatever the specialisation of the translator. Equivalences between countries are almost nonexistent as they all nations have their own culture, history and as a consequence their own national legal system.

Click here to find more information (French article)

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  • Sillowine Sanderson

    This was refreshing to read up on. It is so important to be prepared with legal translation in any meeting where there are language differences! Where else can I learn more about legal translation?